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Orban (L) and Merkel in Budapest. Photo: Carsten Koall/Getty Images

Germany’s domestic political limbo has subsided. Paris and Berlin are freshly committed to strengthening and revitalizing the European Union. And even the economic picture in Europe is rosier for the first time in years, according to the IMF. On the whole, you’d think things look pretty good for the continent.

But a deeper crisis is brewing. While the debt meltdowns that roiled the continent after 2008 revealed deep divisions between Europe’s wealthier North and poorer South, the European Union now faces a growing East-West split over political values as members from the former Eastern Bloc flout core EU principles of liberal democracy.

  • In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban – thirty years ago a fearless dissident who railed against Soviet power – has been building an avowedly “illiberal state” that looks as much towards Moscow as it does towards Brussels.
  • In Poland, a more acute crisis is afoot as the right-wing government’s efforts to politicize the judiciary have raised the prospect of an unprecedented but risky move by Brussels to suspend Warsaw’s voting rights within the EU. But Orban has pledged to veto any such measure on behalf of the Poles, making it unlikely that Brussels ultimately delivers on this threat.

Hungary and Poland say that Eurocrats are stepping on their hard-won sovereignty. But Brussels now faces a tough challenge. It must impose a cost on the Eastern Europeans for failing to live up to EU principles - cutting EU funding to them is one option – but without deepening East-West antagonism in a way that could imperil broader Franco-German efforts to unify and revitalize the EU as a whole.

And unlike the North-South divides which could ultimately be addressed with hard cash, disputes over values are much harder to resolve.  

Sign up for Signal, a twice-weekly newsletter from GZERO Media, a Eurasia Group company, and follow @saosasha on Twitter.

Go deeper

Trump threatens to veto Defense spending bill over social media shield

Photo: Erin Schaff - Pool/Getty Images

President Trump tweeted Tuesday a threat to veto a must-pass end-of-year $740 billion bill defense-spending authorization bill unless Congress repeals a federal law that protects social media sites from legal liability.

Why it matters: Trump's attempt to get Congress to end the tech industry protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is the latest escalation in his war on tech giants over what he and some other Republicans perceive as bias against conservatives.

The walls close in on Trump

Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

With Bill Barr's "Et tu, Brute!" interview with AP, President Trump is watching the walls close in on his claims of fraud, hoaxes and conspiracies.

Why it matters: Trump and his legal team continue to claim election fraud. But the Republican governors of Arizona and Georgia have certified their elections, a loyalist like Barr has weighed in, and lower-ranking officials have taken potshots.

Congress plots COVID pandemic-era office upgrades

oving crates outside Rep. Elise Stefanik's old office Tuesday. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The House plans to renovate members' suites even though staff are worried about an influx of contractors and D.C. is tightening restrictions on large gatherings, some staffers told Axios.

Why it matters: The Capitol has been closed to public tours since March. Work over the holiday season comes as U.S. coronavirus cases spike, Americans beg for more pandemic assistance and food lines grow.

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